Author Archives: Øyvind Ihlen

About Øyvind Ihlen

I am a Professor at the Department of Media and Communication, University of Oslo. My research focuses on public relations/strategic communication and journalism, using theories of rhetoric and sociology on issues such as lobbying, the environment, immigration and corporate social responsibility.

Fanning the Flames of Discontent

New chapter out soon going on about the potential for public relations as a radical activity. Three different aspects or versions of radical public relations are discussed. In the first instance, public relations as a radical activity can be seen as that which provides a break with the previous functionalistic paradigm of the discipline. A second take is that radical public relations applies critical and postmodern theories that call attention to power struggles in society and criticize the role public relations plays in this regard. Ultimately, the chapter ends with a discussion of a third possible take, namely that radical public relations promotes agonistic, consensual conflict as the ideal for practice.

Ihlen, Ø. (2017). Fanning the flames of discontent: Public relations as a radical activity. In E. Bridgen & D. Vercic (Eds.), Experiencing public relations: International perspectives. London: Routledge.

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Risk, crisis, and social media

New pub with Joel Rasmussen: The literature on social media use in risk and crisis communication is growing fast, and it is time to take stock before looking forward. A review of 200 empirical studies in the area shows how the literature is indeed increasing and focusing on particular social media platforms, users, and phases from risk to crisis relief. However, although spanning 40 countries, a large proportion of the world’s social media users are under-represented in the research. In addition, little attention is given to the question of who is actually reached through social media, and the effects of the digital divide are rarely discussed. This article suggests that more attention is given to the questions of equal access to information and ICTs, complementary media channels, and cultural diversity.

Rasmussen, J., & Ihlen, Ø. (in press). Risk, crisis and social media: A systematic review of seven years’ research. Nordicom Review, 1-17. doi:10.1515/nor-2017-0393

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Critical public relations

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Have to brush up on my (non-existent) Portuguese. Heading off to Belo Horizonte on May 17 to attend the congress of the Brazilian association for org.comm. and public relations (Associação Brasileira de Pesquisadores de Comunicação Organizacional e de Relações). Will present a keynote on perspectives of critical public relations: Fanning the flames of discontent!

Corporate Dialogue Comes Head to Head with Economic Rationality

It has been a long winding road, but finally, the dialogue paper that I have written together with Abbey Levenshus is making it into print. This is the gist: Public relations has long been preoccupied with the notion of dialogue, and the advent of social media ushered in new enthusiasm. Still, despite the technology on offer and the fact that dialogue has become a value that “everyone” embraces, most research concludes that little actual dialogue takes place between corporations and their stakeholders. Scholars have pointed to a host of different factors to explain this, ranging from practitioners’ lack of time to their lack of understanding of what dialogue is. This paper discusses perspectives on corporate dialogue with a focus on the constraints identified in the literature, before presenting the main argument that not enough attention has been paid to the macro limits at the systemic level. The paper issues a call to locate dialogue attempts within a system where a limited economic rationality reigns, which, in turn, constrains what individual practitioners can achieve.

Ihlen, Ø., & Levenshus, A. (in press). Panacea, placebo or prudence: Perspectives and constraints for corporate dialogue. Public Relations Inquiry.

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Ready, steady, engage!

Engagement is all over the place. I have jumped on the bandwagon together with Bree Devin and contributed a chapter to the forthcoming Handbook of communication engagement, edited by Kim Johnston & Maureen Taylor. The chapter explores engagement in relation to corporate social responsibility (CSR), and highlights why engagement is not only seen as a foundational concept to CSR, but is necessary for CSR to succeed. Specifically, this chapter draws on existing literature to highlight three forms of engagement in relation to CSR – commitment, mapping of responsibilities, and closing the loop. Conceptualizations of engagement in relation to each of the forms are presented, whereby engagement is referred to as a state, process, and/or orientation. The chapter concludes by highlighting challenges associated with engagement in relation to CSR, as well future agendas based on the forms of engagement presented in this chapter, as well as new directions in CSR research.

Devin, B., & Ihlen, Ø. (in press). Corporate social responsibility and engagement. In K. A. Johnston & M. Taylor (Eds.), Handbook of communication engagement. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.

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Symbolic capital

After having traded in social capital for what seems like an eternity, I have opted out in unknown terrain with an entry on symbolic capital for The International Encyclopedia of Strategic Communication. Symbolic capital concerns reputation and has roots in the other forms of capital that a social actor might possess, including social, economic and cultural capital. The notion invites a perspective on how organizations attempt to position themselves in different contexts where different types of capital are appreciated. In some fields, like business, your symbolic capital is closely tied to your ability to make a profit. In others, like academia, a different hierarchy is in place with roots in your education, publications, and so forth. Strategic communication and public relations can be seen as organizational activities aimed at building and securing the symbolic capital of organizations in their respective fields as they make up the social world.

Ihlen, Ø. (in press). Symbolic capital. In R. L. Heath & W. Johanesen (Eds.), The international encyclopedia of strategic communication. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.


Framing and strategic communication

Framing is probably the most popular analytical concept within communication studies. Together with Eva-Karin Olsson (Swedish Defence University) I have written an entry for the forthcoming Encyclopedia of Strategic Communication on the link between framing and strategic communication. The entry defines the concept and traces its use with a particular focus on the relevance for strategic communication. The basic attraction of framing lies in how frames provide direction for our understanding of issues through the use of certain organizing principles. Some elements are highlighted, whereas others are downplayed or left out. This influences the way that a problem is diagnosed and what remedies are suggested. Still, many different understandings and uses of the concept are found in the literature, but all have in common the idea that frames are essentially about providing meaning.